WOW! Women On Writing Essay Contest Winners!

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Custom Search

Best Writing Contests of 2021, recommended by Reedsy

Writer's Digest 101 Best Sites for Writers Award

Q1 2022 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Q4 2021 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Q3 2021 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Q2 2021 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Q1 2021 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Q4 2020 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Q3 2020 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Q2 2020 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Q1 2020 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Q4 2019 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Q3 2019 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Q2 2019 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Q1 2018 Flash Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Q4 2018 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Q3 2018 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Curiosity and Creative Nonfiction - four week workshop with Chelsey Clammer

In a Flash! Writing and Publishing Dynamic Flash Prose

Submissions Consultation

2008 - 2016

Truly Useful Site Award


Go to wow-womenonwriting.comArticlesContestMarketsBlogClasses

WOW! Q2 2022 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest Winners


We had an open topic this season. Our only guidelines were that submissions be nonfiction with a minimum of 200 words, and a maximum of 1,000 words.



It is the sincere desire of our sponsor that each writer will keep her focus and never give up. Mari L. McCarthy has kindly donated a prize to each winning contestant. All of the items in her shop are inspiring and can help you reach your writing goals. Write on!

CreateWriteNow with Mari L. McCarthy

Note to Contestants:

We want to thank each and every one of you for sharing your wonderful essays with our judges this season. We know it takes a lot to hit the send button! While we’d love to give every contestant a prize, just for your writing efforts, that wouldn’t be much of a competition. One of the hardest things we do after a contest ends is to confirm that someone didn’t place in the winners’ circle. But, believe it when we say that every one of you is a true winner for participating.

To recap our current process, we have a roundtable of 8+ judges who score equally formatted submissions based on: Subject, Content, and Technical. If a contestant scores well on the first round, she receives an e-mail notification that she passed the initial judging phase. The second round judging averages out scores and narrows down the top 20 entries. From this point, our final judges help to determine the First, Second, and Third Place Winners, followed by the Runners Up.

As with any contest, judging so many talented writers is not a simple process. With blind judging, all contestants start from the same point, no matter the skill level, experience, or writing credentials. It’s the writer’s essay and voice that shines through, along with the originality, powerful and clear writing, and the writer’s heart.

We hope that you continue to enter so we can watch you grow as writers and essayists, because each season is a rebirth of opportunity!

Now on to the winners!

Drum roll please....

1st Place Winner
1st Place:  Bethany Jarmul
Gibsonia, Pennsylvania
Congratulations, Bethany!
Bethany Jarmul

Bethany’s Bio:

Bethany Jarmul is a writer, editor, and work-from-home mom. She has worked as a magazine writer, a copywriter, and in various management roles. But leaving her full-time job in 2019 allowed Bethany to focus her time on her greatest passions—raising her kids and writing compelling, creative essays, stories, and poems. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Literary Mama, Scribes*MICRO*Fiction, Sky Island Journal, and Allium, A Journal of Poetry & Prose among others. She grew up in the hills of West Virginia and lives in the suburbs of Pittsburgh with her husband and two kids. She loves drinking chai lattes, reading memoirs, and taking nature walks. She’s new to Twitter and would love for you to follow her: @BethanyJarmul.

Printable View



The Pause Button


In our hilly suburban neighborhood, nestled in our yellow ranch-style home blanketed with snow, my husband sleeps beside me under the turquoise comforter. My toddler dreams in his crib, zipped into his sleep suit, a comforting cocoon. The neighbor’s Irish Setters are strangely still, drifting off after their nightly whines.

The silence is brittle like glass. I lie on my back, tapping my fingers on my stomach.

I take stock of my body, searching for the signs. I’m carrying the same seven extra pounds around my waist. Still have grown out brown roots with blonde ends, gray-blue eyes. My breasts still sag, feel heavy when I grasp them. My hands are dry, cracked. My heart still beats thump-thump, thump-thump.

Today’s news may alter your body but it won’t affect YOU. I spoon feed myself the lie like puréed banana.

An egg the size of a pinhead on a green leaf. A tiny caterpillar eats through one apple, two pears, three plums, until it is 100 times its original size. A pupa, a bright green chrysalis, hangs patiently from a branch. When the time is right, the creature bursts forth, stretching its golden, glittering wings.


Earlier that day, you’re standing in the bathroom, avoiding eye contact with yourself in the mirror. You watch the three drops of urine travel across the strip, like apple juice slowly filling a paper towel. After 30 seconds, two pink lines stare up at you like cat pupils.

You blink, twice, three times, squinting your eyes. Still two lines.

You don’t know whether it’s extraordinary or terrible, magnificent or atrocious. You don’t know if it’s a divine miracle, because it took 13 months to get pregnant the first time. Or whether it’s a twisted joke, because you will soon have two under two, both in diapers. It took four months to heal last time, and one more before you were brave enough for sex. But you’ve always wanted two kids; you really want a girl. You don’t know how to feel because breastfeeding was a nightmare; your nipples still cry from the memories. But now you are done—WERE done. While your toddler sleeps, you watch videos of him on repeat, but when he arrived his head ripped through your perineum.

The top layer of a chameleon’s skin contains pigments—pinks, blues, and yellows. Underneath, cells with guanine crystals are controlled by the chameleon, adjusting the wavelength of light reflected off the crystals, resulting in adaptive, colorful skin.

You hear the whirring of the garage door beneath your feet. Your husband is home with a trunk-full of groceries in blue shopping bags. Should you tell him he’s going to be a dad again while he’s got an armful of raw chicken and mac-n-cheese?

His familiar footsteps travel up the steps, down the hall, closer, closer. You open the white bathroom door slowly.

“These are for you!” He grins proudly, handing you a bouquet of white dahlias and purple daisies.

“And this is for you,” you chuckle lightly, handing him the pee stick.

“You’re pregnant?” He gapes. “We’re having a baby!”

You embrace him, petals brushing his bald head.

This could be a movie scene, someone else’s story—a romance that you watch in your pajamas, curled under a turquoise comforter on a rainy day.

But what if the caterpillar isn’t ready to be a butterfly? What if the chameleon wants to stay green? What can you do to hold off this metamorphosis, at least until you can breathe?

You grab the remote to stop the film. But even the pause button is two parallel lines.



What Bethany Won:

2nd Place Winner
2nd Place:  Susan Mack (she/her)
Austin, Texas
Congratulations, Susan!
Susan Mack

Susan’s Bio:

Susan Mack is a professional writer, storyteller, LGBTQ+ advocate and coach. She is co-producer of Austin’s Stories on the Lawn storytelling series and is currently working on a humorous memoir entitled Three Months. She’s pursuing her MFA in creative nonfiction at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Follow her on twitter @susanmackwrite1.

Printable View



Ostrich Truths


I live in Texas. I’m the mother of two nonbinary trans teenagers. For the fourth time this year, the Texas legislature is considering bills that require trans kids to compete on sports teams that match the gender on their original birth certificate, effectively banning them from school sports. When I learned this, I buried my head under my covers like an ostrich.

Ostriches don’t really bury their heads in the sand. This is a myth. The arguments for the anti-trans legislation contain many myths. Transwomen have an athletic advantage over CIS women. Having transwomen on girls’ teams is unfair to CIS girls. Trans girls aren’t really girls. Coaches will recruit boys to be trans so they can have winning girls’ teams. All untrue.

If an ostrich’s head is in the sand, it’s probably checking on eggs buried for protection, rather than hiding. Even when I do bury myself under the covers, I take my computer with me. I chat with other advocates about resistance strategies: protests, delivering testimony in hearings, visiting legislators, talking to the press. Then, I get up and take action.

Ostriches bury their eggs in one big communal pile and take turns guarding them. No ostrich knows which chick is biologically theirs. I’m shocked by how many people I know with gender-nonconforming children. Cousins. Parents from my kids’ preschool. A former writing group friend. A childhood classmate who I haven’t seen since the eighth grade. These laws may affect their children more directly than mine since my children don’t play school sports. It doesn’t matter. My fellow advocates and I are ready to fight for all trans children like they’re our own.

Sometimes ostriches drop to the ground and hide their heads and legs to avoid predators. Their plumage serves as camouflage, blending with the surrounding sand or rocks. When I go to the capitol to talk to representatives, legislative aids, or committees in an attempt to stop this legislation, I wear conservative business clothing and pay extra care to my hair and makeup. I hope that if I look like the conservative representatives, they’ll be more likely to hear my requests for support.

Ostriches can run 43 miles per hour. I’ve googled residency requirements for Belgium, the Netherlands, and other LGBTQ+ friendly countries. Two of my fellow advocates moved their pre-pubescent trans children to other states in response to these bills. Another friend refused a job in Texas because she wanted to protect her trans child.

If an ostrich must face a predator, it will hiss a warning before using its legs to deliver a 500-pound-per-square-inch kick and scratch with her 4-inch-long talons. Ostriches have killed lions when provoked. I once yelled at a man who didn’t want to let my four-year-old use his gas station bathroom. I won. My kid safely peed in his toilet. The mom advocates are making their opposition heard. We have camped out in legislative offices, stood at protests, and given television interviews. Now, we are signing up as vote registrars and political campaign volunteers. We're ready to kick our opponents out of politics.

In the 18th century, ostriches were nearly hunted to extinction because their feathers were so fashionable. Trevor Project statistics show that more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year. In a spring survey, 94% of LGBTQ kids told the Trevor Project that the current political environment had damaged their mental health. The Trevor Project LGBTQ+ suicide support line has seen a 150% increase in calls from Texas this year.

Ostriches were saved from extinction by domestication. Farmers began to care for ostriches, and harvest only a few feathers at a time. A recent Harvard Medical School study has documented that gender-affirming care reduces suicide rates in trans people. I have a theory that if an unstoppable shitstorm is coming my way, I should try to get out of the way. If I can’t, I should bury my head in the sand like a mythical ostrich. That way, when the storm passes, I might be covered in shit but at least my eyes will be clear.



What Susan Won:

3rd Place Winner
3rd Place: Jennifer Lauren
Austin, Texas
Congratulations, Jennifer!
Jennifer Lauren

Jennifer’s Bio:

Jennifer Lauren is a retired lawyer and Seattle native living in Austin, Texas with her son, daughter, husband, and too many pets. Her first novel, Everything We Did Not Do, is represented by Emily Williamson of Williamson Literary, who is actively seeking publishers. Contact Emily at Find Jennifer at

Printable View


The Great Resign


It’s sometime in 2018, and everyone is working, because we haven’t heard of Covid yet. We think it’s cool to take five Advil and a few handfuls of Sudafed and come into the office when we have the flu. Sudafed’s an upper anyway. Pure, unadulterated energy. We are killing it.

I’m a lawyer. I love my job. I get to dress up in business clothes, buy lattes, use my brain. I love digging into complex cases, digging through the grit and emotion to figure out what really happened, what we can prove, and what the other side will argue. Whether they’re right or are just in it for the money.

I love that it’s part-time, which means I get “downtime.” I rush home to my babies at three, change into sweats or yoga tights, greet them at the bus stop. I hear about their days as I rush them to music, girl scouts, drama, karate. Running to the grocery store while they’re there, watching my phone constantly for whatever I’m missing. I ride an adrenaline wave from one emergency to the next.

It all works. Except.

I hate my job. I spend hours arguing over pieces of paper no one wants just because the other side wants to pick a fight. I spend years of my life and kill small forests of trees arguing over paperwork no one will ever read.

I hate that it consumes me. Twelve hours a day I’m on guard, even though I’m not technically working. I can’t stop watching email, it could be malpractice if I miss one. My brain has no time to shut down. Kids, husband and cats pester me while I try to zone out, staring at Facebook, looking for a break.

We go to trial and I disappear into a mountain of paperwork and stress. Eighty-hour weeks. More. I leave my children and husband before the sun rises, get home when they’re in bed. I leave them Saturdays because witnesses need prep, on Sundays because the exhibits have to be ready by Monday. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

In law school, during orientation week, they told us lawyers tend to die young. Get divorced. Become alcoholics, drug addicts, criminals. That’s what you’re signing up for, by being here in this beautiful, wood paneled classroom.

“By the way,” they said, “we already cashed your tuition checks.”

But clearly, they were talking about the person sitting next to us. We gave that person a sideways glance and wondered what exactly was in their travel mug.

After ten years, I knew they were right. That the only sane thing to do that day was run out of the lecture hall and kiss that tuition check goodbye. Sunk costs are better than sunk lives.

I quit in 2019. I’m unemployed for the first time in my life. All around me, everyone is working, because we haven’t heard of Covid yet.

I watch friends dart from soccer game to the grocery store, balancing lattes and cell phones and to-do lists so long they’ll never find the bottom. They fly by in a daze, a perpetual line of confusion etching itself into the space between my eyes, above my nose, as I wonder how they’re still standing.

Maybe it’s just me, I’m the one they were talking about in that lecture hall. My inability to handle everything wasn’t the inevitable result of a broken society, but the inevitable result of a broken self. Because everyone else seems fine.

It’s 2020, and everyone is not fine. Every woman with enough privilege to go without her salary, every woman without enough privilege to find help with her children, every woman who can, almost every woman I know—she’s quitting.

Because our children are needy again like overgrown toddlers. Sticky little faces and fingers interrupting Zoom meetings. Virus-contaminated office spaces with no vaccine in sight, then a vaccine for some, then a vaccine for all, but nothing for our littlest of littles.

Schools open and close and open again. They open with masks and without masks and with vaccines but no mandates. They open with quarantines for the infected or blithe emails listing all the ways our children were exposed to a deadly virus.

“But come on back tomorrow,” they say.

Those little faces and fingers aren’t there to interrupt the Zoom meetings anymore. We watch the news. We sit on our hands. As the storm becomes the new normal, we wonder what to do next.

Something about those endless days of running, running, running, doesn’t call to us anymore. At least those of us with the privilege to choose.

But choose what?

“I’m just not cut out to be a country club wife. But I’m trying,” my friend says over coffee one morning. We quit, can’t imagine going back. I can’t imagine killing years and trees arguing over paperwork no one is going to read.

We are without identity. We were teachers, programmers, executives, doctors, nurses. Lawyers. They told us we could have it all, and now we’re not sure we’re qualified to do anything.

I am not a country club wife either, but I try to be. I walk. I tennis. I read. I write. I yoga. I take care of the teenagers who ate my babies.

All of us, the women who quit, we look out at the horizon of the next 30, 40, 50 years and wonder how to fill them. Or if we should just fade into oblivion, leaving our high heels and laptop bags behind forever.

Because we can’t get comfortable in the chaos again. We know this. And even if we could, we know that the next wave, the next variant, will demand that we sacrifice it all.



What Jennifer Won:


Congratulations to the runners-up! It was very close, and these essays are excellent in every way.

Click on the titles to read:

Grocery List for My Parents’ Visit by Bethany Jarmul, Gibsonia, Pennsylvania

The Trailer by Mary Jumbelic, Syracuse, New York

Cabinets of Curiosity by Marion Karian, Fresno, California

Reading the Instructional Manual Isn’t the Hard Part by Connally Jae, Springfield, Missouri

This is Trauma by Jessica Ann Berry, Kennesaw, Georgia

Studious by Meg Faith, Bay Area, California

The Last Place I Ever Thought I’d Be by Natalie Y. Wester, Cleveland, Ohio

What the Runners Up Won:


Congratulations to our essay contest honorable mentions! Your essays stood out and are excellent in every way.

Ripping Out Bindweed by Becky Jensen, Rustic, Colorado

Sorrow by Cassandra Crossing, Chicago, Illinois

Desert Life by Janet Feldman, Las Vegas, Nevada

Nothing to Fear But Shut Up by Melinda Mayor, Paris, France

Rage in the Desert by Melissa Mark, Flagstaff, Arizona

The Ground Beneath Me by Claudia Wair, Stafford, Virginia

Butt-Naked, and Mad Enough to Kill by Theresa Boedeker, Columbia, Missouri

True Crime by Shauna Fields, Mesa, Arizona

I Can Fly Away by Elena Kulani, Redondo Beach, California

I Quit by Kay Butzin, Fulton, Texas


What the Honorable Mentions Won:


This brings the Q2 2022 essay contest officially to a close! Although we’re not able to send a special prize to every contestant, we will always give our heartfelt thanks for your participation and contribution, and for your part in making WOW! all that it can be. Each one of you has found the courage to enter, and that is a remarkable accomplishment in itself. Best of luck, and write on!

Check out the latest Contests:


    About WOW! Women on Writing | Ad Rates | Contact Us | Privacy Policy
Copyright © 2022 All rights reserved.

Graphic Design/Illustration by Mackintosh Multimedia.
Web Design/Programming by Glenn Robnett.